Last week New York City Mayor Eric Adams debuted a housing plan with over 100 reforms intended to make it easier to build homes throughout the five boroughs. “Get Stuff Built” has an extremely ambitious, “moonshot” goal to build half a million new homes in the next decade to ameliorate a housing shortage that’s reached crisis proportions.
“If New York is to remain the city we love, we must have places for the people we love. We need more housing, and we need it as fast as we can build it,” Mayor Adams said in press release. “The system has been broken for so long that we have come to view it as our reality. Our city declared a housing emergency five decades ago, yet, we have failed to address it with the same urgency we would any other crisis. That ends now. We can, and we must, do better. We need to add hundreds of thousands of units to address the problem, and that is exactly what we are going to do. Today we are saying yes to more housing and yes to getting stuff built. We are going to build faster, we are going to build everywhere, and we are going to build together.”
Most of the proposed reforms center on cutting red tape for developers. These include scuttling the environmental review process for apartment buildings with 200 or fewer units, speeding up the pre-certification process for buildings, which can stretch for two years or more, tweaking the requirements for the traffic impact analysis, consolidating the Department of Buildings’ (DOB) online system for construction approvals, and requiring the DOB to review and inspect fire alarms instead of the Fire Department. The mayor’s office estimates these and other changes would speed up project timelines by as much as 50 percent. Since time is money, the administration claims its suggestions would lower building costs, as well.
For those unfamiliar, to build apartments in the city right now, developers have to complete an environmental review, undergo a land use review, and obtain building permits. The scope and complexity of each stage of the process varies based on the building’s size, purpose, and location. Buildings subject to the city’s land use public review process (ULURP), for example, have to be approved by the community board, the borough president, the city council, and the mayor. If the property is in a historic district, it is subject to additional review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). At any point in the environmental or land use review processes, objections from stakeholders can send a project back to the drawing board and lengthen the approvals timeline.
While some of these streamlining changes could be enacted by the mayor’s office alone, others (like the DOB fire alarms inspection) would require the City Council or the New York State Legislature’s okay. Given that the Legislator declined to extend the major developer subsidy 421a in June, however, it’s unclear how many “Get Stuff Built” items requiring intergovernmental would be approved, the New York Times reported.
Nevertheless, “Get Stuff Built” outlines policy objectives that the Mayor plans to pursue in conjunction with lawmakers at the national, state, and local levels. In the “Build Together” section of the plan, proposals include legalizing of the city’s 50,000 basement units (a project that may cost $13.7 billion), converting office buildings into housing, changing rules to allow the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to preserve more affordable housing, and giving the city latitude to greenlight more residential construction in high density neighborhoods.
In conjunction with these efforts, the Adams administration has released a zoning text amendment that it says will spur the construction of tens of thousands of new homes by expanding the floor-area ratio for affordable housing, reduce parking minimums, and make it easier for developers to, for example, build out studios and one bedrooms in neighborhoods traditionally zoned for larger single-family homes.
Though the plan stands to affect development citywide, it also offers development plans for areas next to new commuter rail stations in the Bronx and along Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue. The “Get Stuff Built” press conference also marked the start of the environmental review process for the rezoning of areas adjacent to two of the four new Metro-North commuter rail stations that will open in the East Bronx by 2027. The city contends that those rezonings will facilitate the construction of up to 6,000 units, of which 25 percent will be permanently affordable. In Central Brooklyn, the city has a plan to bring thousands of units to busy Atlantic Avenue and adjacent blocks in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. The public outreach and scoping for that plan will start next month and run through June 2023.
While these ideas sound peachy—who could oppose more housing, when demand is driving median rents in Manhattan past $4,000 per month?—the plan has attracted skeptics.
Eric Kober, a former city planner and scholar at conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute, remarked that the Adams administration is “[throwing out a number but not actually producing a plan that explains in any credible way how he would get there. To achieve the goal of half a million new homes, there would have to be more ambitious process changes. Even more important, there would have to be very ambitious zoning changes.”
Village Preservation Executive Director Andrew Berman worried that Adams’s “build, build, build” mentality would affect neighborhoods unequally. “That’s a good message when it comes to certain types of development, carefully chosen where they should go,” Berman told the Times. “It’s a poor message for a lot of other kinds of development that really just benefits the titans of the real estate industry who control so much of the city.”